May 27, 2008
By Leah Friedman, Pittsburgh, PA, PA


I loved Georgia already, downright loved the saucy color of the air, the long hours of midday heat, and the way I could feel the ground through my shoes. It was like sanded wood, soft and old against my heels. My weight shifted from leg to leg, muscle to muscle so rhythmically that I felt like a canoe, tilting back and fourth between wave and water.

Myra bit ferociously into an unripe peach. She hadn’t listened to Great Aunt Carol when she taught us how to look for the best tasting, best feeling, best to eat kind of peach. Carol was an expert on peaches. She knew all kinds of peaches, where they grow, where they die, how they die, when they die, and a list of things about their lives, as well. She was in love with growing peaches almost as much as she was in love with our Great Uncle Gregory. His orange, dark skin was quickly fading into paler shades as the days passed, and even though I had only known Great Uncle Gregory for a couple of days, I could feel him dying away. It was a naturally unpleasant time; Gregory was the last of his brothers and sisters to be alive.

Mom had tried to explain every member of our family to me for years, but even she had trouble imagining what they looked like after all these years. She would tell me when I was younger, “Sherri, you have a cousin out there with eyes like Grandma’s.” She was always disappointed that I didn’t resemble my grand mother, and I always resented her for not bringing me to this person who did.

I looked at Myra as the yellow beads of peach sweat rolled down her bony chin, onto her pale skin and down her shirt. She didn’t remind me of my grandmother at all. The last couple of days had been awkward, Myra and I walking around Bainbridge aimlessly with nothing to do. I had a feeling that she was used to a certain rustle of people, a certain speed at which people did things in Maryland. That just wasn’t Georgia. Here, people moved like heavy clouds, slowly and stopping often. She finished the peach quickly and threw the gutted core into the grass without a second glance. The fall of the peach broke an unusual stillness that hovered all around us. The last three days had been just like this, still but filled with millions of tiny actions, movements, and words that filled up space but never seemed to fill the emptiness that the stillness caused.

Neighbors who surrounded Great Uncle Gregory seemed more concerned than a lot of the extended family did. Their condolences seemed tangible by now, even when Gregory was still alive. Carol didn’t tell him about the cake or the peach cobblers that they brought to the house, she didn’t want to scare him, but she knew that he knew. Even though I had only met Carol a couple of days ago, I could tell what kind of person she was. For fifteen years I had an idea of what my relatives would be like; it was nothing so ironic as a woman trying to protect a dying man.

Myra fanned herself a couple of times, her wrist cracking with every throw of her hand, another odd silence breaker. She looked at me defensively, as she often looked at me, then picked up another peach and began to tear it apart with her teeth. Her fingers grew sticky as she picked up peach after peach, letting juice slip down her throat into her stomach. She was so small that I could see her skin stretch as she breathed in and out, in and out. She seemed so fragile, another trait that I wasn’t expecting from family.

“So,” she said roughly, “what do you want to do today?” I was infatuated with who she was. I couldn’t believe I had a cousin somewhere out there in the world and hadn’t known her all my life. I decided that it wasn’t worth it to care that she didn’t fit my cousinly mold.

“We could go swimming again. That was so fun.” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. I wanted to be enthusiastic like Myra, but I wasn’t from the busy streets of Maryland. I spent all my time sitting or listening or reading in Maine, where everything is crisp and cold against the Atlantic Ocean. I did want to go swimming though; I loved the warm lake and spending time with Myra. I loved watching my skin color in the sun.

“I don’t know. We did that yesterday. I feel like doing something new,” she said, interrupting my fantasy.

“Like what? There’s not much else to do.” It was the truth. We had tried everything around this lazy town. I felt a tinge of guilt for not considering sitting by Gregory’s bedside, but I wouldn’t know what to say. I knew that Myra felt the same way. That was probably the reason that we were spending so much silent time together. To me, it was easier to spend time with Myra, her unending energy, her clumsiness, and the fact that she was a member of my family who wasn’t miserable or withering away. I went to bed the night before wondering if she felt the same hope in me when it dawned upon me that maybe she felt like I was just another piece of our dying breed.

“Do you know,” she said quietly, “the story of why our great uncles, aunts, and parents split up all over the country?” She spread her toes into the round blades of grass and let them dance.

“No, I guess I never heard it.”

“I only know a part of it, and it isn’t very interesting. Something happened in the town where they grew up. All the kids were getting sick. So their parents, our great grandparents, I guess, sent them away to avoid some disease or whatever.” Her shoulders rolled back, the bone in her neck poking forward. “They never got back home, I guess.”

“I wonder what it was.” My thoughts turned towards my grandmother, who died years before. I wondered less about their journey away from disease and more about why she never told me or my mother. Our family was one of women; I hadn’t seen more than two men in the last three days, even though our entire family was using poor Gregory’s almost-death as an excuse to see each other. Yet another tinge of guilt rushed through my legs. It was my fault for never asking grandma about her brothers and sisters. I imagined my grandmother as a child, looking sort of like me, only more innocent, less of a thinker. I saw her in black and white, her cool, long, drippy hair pulled back into two pigtails. She had shiny shoes on her feet and she clung onto her mother in tears. I pictured them putting her on a wooden train and waving goodbye, like in Harry Potter. I imagined her heart beat at that moment compared to the one I knew from the hospital; both like chandeliers. I pictured Gregory as a young boy.

“Yeah, pretty weird.” She said, her attention shifting elsewhere. Her eyes closed and her back crashed backwards against the ground. I watched her muscles as they released and she sunk into the grass. I thought that maybe she was considering diseases, or siblings, or the history of our family. I was. “I have a boyfriend in Maryland, you know.” She said without opening her eyes, but letting her eyelids flare. Her shallowness disappointed me, but I wasn’t surprised at all. I was thankful that she was talking to me like a friend.

“What’s his name?” I asked. I wasn’t interested. I was more interested in the things they did, where they hung out, who they hung out with. I wouldn’t dare ask her though, I didn’t want her to think that I was nosey, or for that matter, creepy. It seemed to me that I had hit the spot with Myra. She rambled on about their relationship, her other relationships, his other relationships, and all the other things that made up her boyfriend in Maryland. An hour passed.

It had to be at least eleven o’clock by then, the sun almost directly over our heads. I could feel the hair on the top of my head beginning burn, but I didn’t want to complain. I just made small talk about boys with Myra, or…listened to Myra talk about a boy. I wanted to talk about something we had in common, but this was the longest time we had gone without an awkward silence and I didn’t want to stop getting to know Myra. It made me feel closer to everything I was loosing or had already lost.

It wasn’t hard to see the house where Carol and Gregory lived, right on the outskirts of the peach trees. Their house was made of wood and brick with dark curves of green for its trim. The house was large enough to house the family; six bedrooms and three bathrooms. It looked like most of the other houses in Bainbridge. It held a swift, full scent that dug into your skin so that it stayed under your fingernails until the next shower. Like many other things in Georgia, the house smelled like peaches. Bainbridge itself wasn’t what most would call a sight for sore eyes, just a couple of stores, peach orchards and lots of people, but I liked it there. Myra was only part of the reason I enjoyed staying away from Maine where everything seemed just as slow, but not nearly as authentic.
A slight wind blew over us, and our relaxing conversation became abruptly cut off by the terrifying shriek of Carol. I could tell it was her from the raspy, yet soft tone of her vocals. The scream sliced the air and sent a shockwave of movement through the blank surface of the day. Myra sat up quickly, looking me in the eyes for the first time. A flood of realization appeared on her face.

“Do you think…?” I asked, not even considering finishing the sentence. The thought of Gregory dying already made me feel sour. All my thoughts about Myra disappeared. A quick movie of all the times I walked passed his room and not gone in to say ‘hello, I’m your great niece; tell me about your life’ played in front of my face. The skin on my scalp stiffened into tiny balls, and Myra stared towards me, her eyes widened like I hadn’t seen them do before.
“Come on,” she said, standing to her feet sharply “lets go see.” The day dropped to a serious level. Myra sped into a power walk and I followed, watching as the peach trees turned into orange streaks spinning past us. I hurried to her side, and stared ahead. Suddenly, things did not seem so still.

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